Challenging Glaucon’s Challenge

In Book 2, we discussed Glaucon’s challenge, which boils down to him concluding that people only value justice for it’s consequences. In other words, if we could break the rules and get away with it, we would. In his terms, justice comes from agreements made by people pursuing their own interests, and we welcome it only for it’s benefits. I have to agree that we do what’s right because we will be punished if we do what is wrong. However, Socrates argues that justice comes from the kind of good that we welcome for its own sake and also for it’s consequences. In other words, we do what is right because it is right, and also because we will be punished if we do otherwise.

I came across and article while researching about humans having an innate sense of morality. The author is Harvard psychologist Marc Hauser. Hauser makes the claim that “millions of years of natural selection have molded a universal moral grammar within our brains that enables us to make rapid decisions about ethical dilemmas.” This seems accurate, to me at least. He gives the example of a perfectly healthy man walking into a hospital where several patients need heart transplants. Is it morally acceptable to kill him (without consequence) and harvest his organs to save lives? The answer is most emphatically no. However, how do we reach this conclusion based on Glaucon’s opinion?  According to Glaucon, if there was no consequence, people would do what they want in order to fulfill their own interests.

Hauser also makes the point that “there appears to be some kind of unconscious process driving moral judgments without its being accessible to conscious reflection.” I think that it is safe to say that he is right in saying that making moral judgments is an unconscious process, excluding the mentally ill. If we present a situation like the man walking into the hospital, and tell the people that there will be no consequences, we will still unconsciously decline because of some moral code that is ingrained in our brains. I think that this instant response comes from some innate sense of right and wrong.

Hauser makes one final example of a teacher coming into class saying “If someone is annoying you, punch them in the face!” The students are naturally disturbed and say “You can’t do that.” The teacher says, “It’s okay – that’s what they do in France!” The students reply that the French are weird. I think that this basically shows that, from an early age, we understand a certain fundamental distinction between right and wrong.

In conclusion, I think that what Hauser says about humans having an innate sense of morality is true. I also think that Socrates’ definition of justice ties into this belief that we accept the right thing to do because it is right as well as realizing the consequences of doing the wrong thing to do. I think that, when separated from normal consequences, people will still do the right thing because of an innate moral code in all humans.

This is the article:


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