TED Conversations

This conversation is closed.

If we could rely on people to be honest, objective, intelligent, and reasonable, would we need any rules at all?

Expanding the idea that we should expect moral individuals to know when to break or expand the rule base, couldn't we also expect people to know what is right and fair based on their own sense of morality. Simply applying the 'golden rule' to know that if we were on the receiving end of our own actions that we would find them unfair, unsafe, or unreasonable. Ignoring whether this is possible or not, would such a hypothetical culture be able to resolve differences based only on the law of reason and fairness?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Feb 3 2013: The key here, I think, is what is included in 'reasonable.' There are cases in which what is best for different people taken individually is in conflict, and there are different reasonable ways of making choices in such circumstances, depending on people's values. Also people will weigh the priority on certain values differently, which affects the choices they think are best for the aggregate.

    In another conversation, though I don't remember which, a TEDster raised the idea that people within well connected small communities are able often to live without reference to rules and laws. Many loving families have such a format, for example, and many work places as well.

    There are opposing forces. Some people by personality are quite apparently very ego-bound, whether or not they recognize this in themselves. I am not sure where you see the interface between such a personality attribute one sees in so many and the characteristics you put forward as conditions.
    Your question is important, and many who in various contexts work with or work to build sustainable and vigorous communities consider all the time and seriously how to create and maintain a culture that operates on the basis of attributes such as those you put forward and very few rules. It definitely works in many situations.
    • Feb 3 2013: So then why is it that we can be reasonable with family and loved ones, but not with everyone else? I believe it is for exactly the reasons discussed here: that when honesty and objectivity are allowed to overpower bias based on pride and the need to be right (triumphant), reasonability is possible.
      It's very true, that many choices favor one group or individual over another, but using a utilitarian accounting, even the 'losing' side, although disappointed with the reality, can often accept it as best for all.
      I understand completely that there are many difficult complications, but I think those are the main differences between the family unit and society at large.
      • thumb
        Feb 3 2013: Some people do better with their famiies and some actually do worst with their families! Some people find it easy to love or feel empathy for or to value those with whom they are not intimately connected and others don't.

        I agree absolutely that people can weigh tradeoffs reasonably, take turns, and so forth if everyone is inclined or commited to functioning that way.

        And then there are people who like to sabotage such situations. I have never understood why. Like most aspects of behavior, the answer likely lies somewhere in the individual's personality and history.
        • Feb 4 2013: I believe the answer is that too frequently people act on their emotions without due thought. I know this idea would be shunned by poets, play-writes, and artists who rely on emotional expression, and I admit that much beauty comes from uncontaminated emotional output. But so does much of the evil and pain we see.
          The point of this thread is that I think if we train ourselves individually and expect each other culturally to take a moment to honestly evaluate our actions before we 'pull the trigger', a great deal of pain can be avoided.
      • thumb
        Feb 4 2013: Hi, Reef. I agree.
        • Feb 4 2013: Thanks for your helpful insights Fritzie. I'll look forward to more of the same in the future.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.