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Does Might Ever Make Right?

  1. Apr 26, 2004 #1

    Les Sleeth

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    If one has the power to make a decision which affects others, is one always obligated to consider what is "right"? Can someone claim, for instance, one's superior ability in some area exempts one from having to explain oneself? If someone has managed to get to the top of a situation (political, athletic, business, social, etc.) can't he/she claim superior ability justifies the decisions he/she makes (i.e., "I wouldn't be at the top if I didn't know better than you)? Some may also ask, "if I've managed to get more power than you, doesn't that give me certain rights you are not entitled to?"

    Finally, if "might" should not determine who makes the rules, then what is the basis of "rightness"?
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2004
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 27, 2004 #2
    You ask several different questions here. The first part isn't about "might makes right", but someone claiming expertise...sort of a "you won't understand (or I don't want to take the time to explain)" argument. This is just asking someone to trust you. Personally, granting this trust would vary with person and with the issue at hand. I am fearful of blind trust. I don't think that anyone could be so much smarter than I that I would not be able to comprehend a person's reasons. Even the smartest of us need checks. "Just trust us" is the slogan of intrusive governments. Abilities wouldn't be my only factor for granting trust, but also what are called character traits.

    Might definitely does not make right. The basis of "rightness" goes down to the very basis of ethics. The whole idea of ethics/morality disappears if "might makes right", because you cannot make a judgment, because if it is happening, then it must be right. The whole of idea of ethics rests on the premise that some things aren't acceptable. As for the basis of ethics, some would use religious arguments. Some would use others. Some would use my argument.

    I say that the whole idea of right or wrong should derive from the idea of good or bad. And the only things that are truly good or bad are pleasure (good) and suffering (bad).
  4. Apr 27, 2004 #3
    The argument "Trust me, I know better than you" is fallacious. If the reasoning behind a decision is sound, then you should be able to provide evidence. Appealling to confidence is not sound reasoning.
  5. Apr 27, 2004 #4
    The natural-selection value of war

    • 5.7 The Functions of War and the Development of a Functional

      ...one could argue that the outcome of war on the whole is likely to favor the more competent culture and thus effect a general advance.
  6. Apr 27, 2004 #5
    Not sure if i am reading your mind, or its just my present concern over the Iraq situation. Use it as a modern example. Its out of control. If the USA has the power to make a decision which affects others, is the President, always obligated to consider what is "right"? The UN voted against the war and USA made there own decision. We know today that it was not worth it, as the reasons will never be validated. The Roman Catholic Church tried to convert the world through "Ecumenism" and look where it lead to, disaster. George W. Bush will not convet Islam either by Ecumenical Democracy. What is the basis of "rightness"? using ethics and moral standards.
  7. Apr 27, 2004 #6
    But too much pleasure usually ends up in suffering, doesn't it? What good is a life wasted on a meaningless pursuit of pleasure for its own sake?

    I think it all boils down to good and bad, but there must be more to good than just pleasure. I think some amount of suffering is not only inevitable, but actually desirable, as it's suffering that gives meaning to everything else we perceive as good. No pain, no gain.
  8. Apr 27, 2004 #7
    "RIGHT" as understood by the current administration was based on misguided christian zeal. unfortunately, they also had the might to act on their delusion.

    hopefully this will be the straw that breaks the camel's back and we will no longer have a unilateral military action. how many times do we need to go through this (korea, vietnam, etc etc)??

    while private interests played a part, i personally believe that they acted in good faith. regardless of the reason any, if not all, military action is never a solution. look at northern ireland, palestine, iraqi sects, etc

    war can only acerbate a situation. at best, it is a very poor final solution.

    love & peace,
    olde drunk
  9. Apr 27, 2004 #8

    Les Sleeth

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    You are correct, what is "right" normally is an ethics question, but I think this concept manages to escape ethics. It seems to be the principle of nature, where the dominant animal gets the rights to breed, first shot at kills, etc. In some past cultures, the dominating ruler had virtual absolute power. The "ethics" of might makes right is power. If you have it, then you deserve to make the rules; moreover, if you have power you can make the rules.

    That's an interesting idea, but to agree I'd have to re-characterize your standards as what feels good (which isn't always pleasure) and suffering. One might be able to indulge in sex and eating every waking moment (if one had the resources and metabolism for it) and not suffer much, but still not feel too good inside.
  10. Apr 27, 2004 #9

    Les Sleeth

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    What if were Yoda? What if it is a child who is about to do something that will harm oneself or others and you have the power to stop it?
  11. Apr 27, 2004 #10

    Les Sleeth

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    Exactly what I suspect dominant ruler-types think. Look back to all the conquerers, and then the ruling elite that became established, and they all believed they'd earned the right to make the rules. It seems clear there has been, and still is in some ways, an assumption that if you can dominate you are superior.

    Something I've theorized is that since it hasn't really been that long since homo sapians acquired their current level of consciousness, possibly some of the old biological imperatives are still controlling us. In such a case, dominance is something which has carried over from unreflective animal awareness. While it works for biology, once our level of consciousness is attained new interaction rules seem to be needed.

    This might sound like a funny reason to post a thread, but what made me think about it is a group of friends I have. We all play racquetball together, and the dominant players tend to feel they deserve priviledges for things like sharing court time, deciding if a shot was good or not during play, etc. I also observe a certain struggle in the group to move up or maintain one's position by dominance. Sometimes thing get pretty heated among players who off the court are good friends. My attempts at getting anyone to see there are mindless dominance issues at work haven't been too successful.

    You point, however, that whomever dominates might lead to a better situation seems to determined both by who the players are, and by how one wins. I am very happy the Allies eventually dominated in WWII, or when the police dominate over those involved in criminal activity. But then, the bad guys in those situations are the ones starting it. Then there's contests like elections. There one can observe attempts at dominance too, even though candidates try to appear like they are making their case with reason and not force.
  12. Apr 27, 2004 #11

    Les Sleeth

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    Personally, I think what should determine what is "right" is what works best. I've never seen a case where someone who believes the way things "ought" be can overcome the fact that their idea doesn't work. People seem to need to develop as individuals, for instance, so those cultures that have rules which infringe on the development of individuality seem to cause psychological problems for its citizens. The same is true in business where it's been amply demonstrated empowering employees is far more effective (for the business) than driving them like slaves. Recently I saw a movie (forgot the title, something like the "_______ Sisters"), a true story about how Irish girls would be put in the convent, against their will, to make them "good." Some were kept there until adulthood, or never let out! There you have a great example of the utter stupidity of choosing morality/ethics as the basis of action over the practical question of if conventing girls really is best for them (or society).

    One reason I don't think we trust what "works" as much as we should is because we aren't sure if goodness or love or compassion or justice works as well as kicking a$$, getting what you want regardless of how it affects others, etc. In other words, is what "works" best (both toward establishing wealth and achieving an inner sense of well being), that which we now consider to be the more enlightened qualities of consciousness? All my life experience tells me that enlightened qualities overall yields the most practical course of action.

    I think the dominance question is exactly this sort of thing, where we aren't sure if reason is better than just winning by force and then asserting whatever rules one deems best.
  13. Apr 27, 2004 #12


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    That's it in a nutshell. "Might makes right" is logically flawed and morally wrong. Unquestionably.
    That explains a lot about your views on philosophy/morality. A psychologist would disagree with you: humans are far more complicated than that, though animals are not. In fact, it is because humans are more complicated than that that modern civilizations are possible.
    Uh oh, LW - that sounds like something I would have said in the 'Got meat?' thread...

    Hobbes called it the "state of nature." Its also called "anarchy." I wouldn't necessarily call it "might makes right" because to an animal, "right" is not a concept with any meaning. Having risen above that to create (or discover if you prefer) morality and ethics is what sets us apart from the animals (and even the feudal kings and contemporary warlords) and allowed the creation of modern civilization.
    I'm definitely on board with that: our ability to rise above our animal instincts is what makes us different. But we still have those instincts and they do still affect us.
  14. Apr 27, 2004 #13
    (i.e., "I wouldn't be at the top if I didn't know better than you)? Some may also ask, "if I've managed to get more power than you, doesn't that give me certain rights you are not entitled to?"

    This would only apply in a world where everyone was the same age, everyone was focusing on the same career, and there was no such thing as prejudism, discrimination, bribery, etc.
    Since we all know that is not the case, I think the answer is that might is not right. The more powerful MOST (not all) humans are, the more warped their judgement becomes and the more they lose sight of what they know to be "right" for the masses. Democracy was supposed to alleviate this problem, with the people collectively making the decisions, but now of course, that, too has been warped, to fit the needs of the mighty...
  15. Apr 30, 2004 #14
    Might doesn't make right. All because you can do something doesn'y mean you should be doing it. Otherwise any action would be good and the 'rightness' of an action would be judged by whether it worked or not. Intentions and means-used count.
  16. Apr 30, 2004 #15
    Very well-said! Would you decide what "works best"?

    I believe the obvious conclusion is that yes, the good of the people as a whole should be one and the same as the good of one person. Therefore a person's actions should not take from others more than if benefits the self. Japanese culture is very far advanced from ours in this sense, in that they tend to consider the welfare of their whole people and not just their self. A Japanese businessman will often work for one company his entire life. This allows the company to expend resources on him that the company will reap in return through the employee's advancement. Everybody wins.

    Yet, this is how equalibrium is attained. What many people seek is not an equalibrium, but a position of power. This is where "bad" ideas are introduced, and it is also why any system which controls power will eventually bow to those with corrupt ideals. There is no such thing is a "good government" per se because a government is a system for managing power, which in itself is a flawed endeavor. The only government that will ever work for a long period of time is one that gives every citizen equal power. The current U.S. government operates under the guise of such a "democracy" when really it is a republic. This is just basic psychology, everybody knows we're not all equal, but it sounds nicer to call it a democracy anyway.
  17. May 1, 2004 #16
    The "what works best" method, as stated, is incomplete. Works best toward what goal? Why is this goal valuable?
  18. May 2, 2004 #17

    Les Sleeth

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    I've just had several pages of debate with Canute on this exact point in the thread "Proof of Reality" in epistomology. If you are interested in more depth than I am going to cover here, you might read that. But . . .

    The statement about what "works" is derived from philosophical pragmatism, and my personal observation that that we have emerged from (relatively) fixed universal conditions. For example, immediately surrounding us is biology, and surround thating is nature, and surrounding that is the universe's physics, and some feel surrounding that is something metaphysical.

    All these interdependent conditions are either fixed or so established after billions of years of development, they usually can't be changed in a short period of time, or if they can (such as nature) it often results in damage to the overall system. The bottom line then, is that it's usually best to harmonize with such powerful forces, and that includes both in one's behavior and also when designing human systems where the issue of power is important. So when I speak of how something "works," mostly I mean how well it harmonizes with universal or, for life, natural conditions (there are other aspects to philosophical pragmatism discussed in that other thread).

    When it comes to humans, evidence something is working is the ease of implementation, duration, and how well the people thrive. History provides plenty of examples of how detrimental to ease, duration and thriving that power abuse can be. That's because power abuse always results in the loss of individual power, and powerless people are rendered ineffective (that's why we imprison criminals). Even in business (where there's been, and still is, lots of power abuse) it's being learned that empowering employees is good for business. If people didn't have a nature, maybe we could treat them any ol' way and they'd still be productive. But that hasn't proven to be true.

    So I say, it just doesn't "work" in the long-term to say, if I've got the might, then I get to determine what is right because there are several layers of a much bigger universe which already has lots to say about what is right, and what works.
    Last edited: May 2, 2004
  19. May 3, 2004 #18
    So, there appear to be 2 values:

    1) harmony with surroundings
    2) thriving

    What is "thriving"? Reproducing?
  20. May 3, 2004 #19

    Les Sleeth

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    For a human being, that is quite the philosophical question isn't it. If it were a car, we might say thriving is when the all the parts run smoothly, the car operates as designed, and it endures. But it's interesting too that because of damage to the environment, and using up natural resourses, cars are now seen as working better when they don't pollute and use less fuel. As you can see, those values for a car (design optimization, environment protection, and efficiency) really do harmonize better with the larger environment of physics and nature, which in the long run makes the car work better for us.

    A human being is a lot more sophisticated, and there is a lot of debate about what makes us thrive. If you've ever watched Dr. Phil, it's almost frightening to see what some people think proper child rearing or a healthy relationship is. I think children give us some great clues about thriving. Once their food, health, play time and shelter issues are solid, kids thrive in a loving environment with realistic boundaries that encourages them to develop as individuals, teaches them values that de-self-center, and assists them in self-actualization (manifesting talents, skills, healthy desires, etc.).

    That seems to "work" best for most of one's life, but some of us later also seem to need to find something deeper to experience in order to thrive. Of course, that's another controversial issue (i.e., whether there is anything "deeper").
  21. May 4, 2004 #20


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    Aren't you here asserting your "philosophical might"?
    What is the difference between the pen and the sword? The pen is mightier ;)

    Happy thoughts
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