Theories of justice and moral behavior.

Author:Dubas, Khalid M.


The Importance of Moral Behavior

The concepts of moral behavior, ethics, and justice have been addressed by psychologists, economists, philosophers, profits, and others. The fundamental principle of morality is that it must be useful for the society. A more moral society is more successful than a less moral society. In the former society, people will be able to work better through better collaboration, attain higher satisfaction, and face fewer social problems than in the latter society. Moral virtues strengthen individuals and their societies. Non-virtuous people are punished while virtuous people are held in high regard. Hume (1777) wrote "If usefulness, therefore, be a source of moral sentiment, and if this usefulness be not always considered with a reference to self; it follows, that everything, which contributes to the happiness of society, recommends itself directly to our approbation and goodwill. Here is a principle, which accounts, in great part, for the origin of morality; And what need we seek for abstruse and remote systems, when there occurs one so obvious and natural." Similarly, Arrow (1974) notes "Certainly one way of looking at ethics and morality, a way that is compatible with this attempt at rational analysis, is that these principles are agreements, conscious or, in many cases, unconscious, to supply mutual benefits.... Societies in their evolution have developed implicit agreements to certain kinds of regard for others, agreements which are essential to the survival of the society or at least contribute greatly to the efficiency of its working. It has been observed, for example, that among the properties of many societies whose economic development is backward is a lack of mutual trust.... And it is clear that this lack of social consciousness is in fact a distinct economic loss in a very concrete sense, as well of course as a loss in the possible well-running of a political system."

The Role of Reason and Reasoning versus Instinct and Emotions

Discussing superstition and justice, Hume (1777) states: "Those who ridicule vulgar superstitious, and expose the folly of particular regards to meat, days, places, postures, apparel, have an easy task; while they consider all the qualities and relations of the objects, and discover no adequate cause for that affection or antipathy, veneration or horror, which have so mighty an influence over a considerable part of mankind." He goes on to further say "But there is this material difference between superstition and justice, that the former is frivolous, useless, and burdensome; the latter is absolutely requisite to the well-being of mankind and existence of society."

In search of the foundations of morals, scholars have often debated the relative importance of reason and sentiment. Hume (1777) notes:

"There has been a controversy started of late, much better worth examination, concerning the general foundations of Morals; whether they be derived from Reason, or from Sentiment; whether we attain the knowledge of them by a chain of argument and induction, or by an immediate feeling and finer internal sense ..." "... I am apt to suspect, they may, the one as well as the other, be solid and satisfactory, and that reason and sentiment concur in almost all moral determinations and conclusion. The final sentence, it is probable, which pronounces characters and actions amiable or odious, praise-worthy or blamable...; that which renders morality an active principle and constitutes virtue our happiness, and vice our misery; it is probable, I say, this final sentence depends on some internal sense of feeling, which nature has made universal in whole species. For what else can have an influence of this nature? But in order to pave the way for such a sentiment, and give a proper discernment of its object, it is often necessary, we find, that much reasoning should precede, that nice distinctions made, just conclusions drawn ..."

However, Sen (2009) emphasizes the importance of reason for moral behavior and justice and notes that some type of reason, however defective, is the foundation of our prejudices and this reason must be confronted by good reason to reach appropriate agreements between parties. Normative theories of moral behavior and justice must be built on reason and reasoning.

Societal Principles and Values

Many principles and values are held in high regard in the US. Here are some examples:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." (The US Declaration of Independence)

"In God We Trust" (on US currency notes)

"Liberty" (on US coins)

"The land of the free and home of the brave." (An American adage.)

Merriam-Webster dictionary describes a motto as "a short expression of a guiding principle." The mottos of fifty US states are grouped into ten categories in Table 1A. Table IB (given at the end), provides alphabetical listing of state mottos in English and other languages implying influence of ideas from other countries. These mottos present many ideals and virtues. These guiding principles are easier to recite than to appropriately implement, however, since it is often difficult to find appropriate rules or criteria for decision making. Different values influence peoples' decisions so that well-meaning people may come up with conflicting choices in the same situation. It is easy to note that the nine judges on the US Supreme Court do not always reach a consensus on the cases presented to them; even the same judge may react differently to the same case in different time periods as her/his values may change over time. Thus, while these principles provide a general direction to behavior, they fall short of offering decision rules for collective choice to achieve these principles. We need frameworks and theories to organize our thoughts and knowledge and we need decision rules that would help us to make appropriate decisions that are moral, ethical, and just.

Purpose and Scope

These are the main goals of this study:

  1. To present and evaluate Kohlberg's (1971, 1977 & 1984) Theory of Moral Development and Haidt's (2007 & 2012) Moral Foundations Theory.

  2. To present and evaluate the main normative theories of moral behavior and justice organized into two groups as proposed by Sen (2009):

    a. Transcendental-Institutionalist/Contractarian Group:

    i. John Rawls's (1971, 1999 & 2003) Theory of Justice as Fairness, and

    ii. Robert Nozick's (1974) Theory of Entitlement as Justice; and

    b. Comparative Realization-Focused Group:

    i. Social Choice Theory (Borda 1781, Condorcet 1785, Arrow 1951 & 1963; Sen 1970, 1998 & 2009).

  3. To emphasize the importance of normative theories of moral behavior and justice and their collective choice rules for collective decision making.

  4. To classify all five theories in one table to reveal their similarities and differences.

  5. To present arguments for selecting the Comparative Realization-focused theories and for rejecting the Transcendental-Institutionalist/Contractarian theories of moral behavior and justice.

    Contributions to Literature

    This study makes three main contributions to the literature:

  6. A multidisciplinary perspective. Much of the literature on moral behavior and justice has developed largely in isolation in different disciplines. This study presents and evaluates descriptive and normative theories from several disciplines.

  7. Introduction of Social Choice Theory to other disciplines. The Social Choice Theory is little known outside economics and political science due to its use of formal logic and mathematical reasoning. This study introduces this theory to other disciplines.

  8. The superiority of the Comparative Realization-Focused Perspective. It is argued here that the Social Choice Theory is the most the important normative theory of justice and collective choice due to its comparative realization-focused framework. This study encourages future research efforts to be directed on the comparative realization-focused perspective and away from the transcendental contract-focused perspective.

    Sen (2009) notes that two streams of thought emerged from the European Enlightenment: (1) "transcendental institutionalism" or Contrarianism that is focused primarily on setting up the most just institutions instead of actual behaviors and outcomes, and (2) "comparative realization-focused" framework in terms of the Social Choice Theory that is concerned primarily with a comparative framework and is focused on the realizations or consequences of actions. Sen's (2009) classification of normative approaches is used here.

    Limited Interdisciplinary Perspective

    Some disciplines are largely closed to outsiders and this is often the case with economics perhaps due to its extensive use of mathematics. Theories are often developed to tackle similar problems across disciplines without interfaces among these disciplines. For example, Hadit (2012), a moral psychologist, does not utilize any work by economists and philosophers Arrow or Sen. Similarly, Sen (2009) and Rawls (1971, 2003) do not mention the moral psychologists Kohlberg or Hadit. There is a need for an exchange of theoretical and empirical developments across disciplines to enrich each discipline and our overall knowledge and understanding. This study tries to fill some of this gap by presenting theories form several disciplines.

    Various theories of moral behavior and justice are presented and evaluated here. First, two psychological theories of moral development and foundations of moral behavior are presented. They offer rich understanding of moral behavior and justice. Next, we present normative theories of moral behavior and justice that are organized into two groups. The normative steams of thought emerged from the Enlightenment Era in Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and have continued to be developed into...

To continue reading