Proof There Is A Rule of Conduct All ‘Normal’ Human Beings Acknowledge

the existence of the categories of ‘sociopath’ and ‘psychopath’

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Psychologists use the term “sociopaths” to refer to people who are indifferent to their effects on other people. The only thing that matters to them is getting what they want. For them, the wants, needs, and feelings of other people are irrelevant.

Psychopaths are not indifferent to their effects on other people. They want to affect other people. Psychopaths want other people to be aware of their lack of concern for them as human beings, usually by intentionally harming other people in some way.

All of us ‘normal’ people — not sociopaths or psychopaths, at least— recognize that we are under some kind of obligation to be mindful of other people, to take other people into account as we go through our separate lives together in this world (talking here of people in general, of course, including those outside our circles of friends and kin). Whatever our failings might be in that regard, we recognize them as failings.

Still, a good question arises: what exactly do those obligations entail? What, specifically, is required of us regarding other people?

After all, there is no ‘upper limit’ to how mindful we can possibly to be where other people are concerned. How can we know when we have been ‘mindful enough’?

While there is no upper limit to how mindful of other people we can be, the extent to which we can take others into account, there is a limit in the other direction that we can identify.

For one thing, we recognize that we are obligated be aware of our potential affects on other people and to try to avoid, or at least minimize, our negative affects on other people. That applies whether those affects are material or psychological, intended or not.

Beyond that, all of us realize that we are not supposed to ‘use’ other people to get what we want. While that is a term that is commonly used, it is often used without great clarity. It simply means we should not involve other people in that process without their knowing about it or against their wills.

If you think about it (and I have spent years doing just that), all of that boils down to a handful of absolute prohibitions on our conduct regarding one another as other human beings: no killing, harming, coercing, manipulating (lying, cheating, etc.), or stealing to get what we want. Those are our minimal obligations to one another as human beings. It can be stated more succinctly: no one may co-opt any other person in the process of getting what one wants.

Is there any normal person who thinks anyone should be allowed or engage in such conduct to get whatever that person wants? I didn’t think so. So there is a rule of conduct regarding our interactions with other people in general that all ‘normal’ people acknowledge.

Now, a rule of conduct is an ‘ethic’. A rule of conduct that all people (who are neither sociopaths nor psychopaths) acknowledge can be called ‘the ethic of justice’.

Here’s the thing: the applicability of that ethic isn’t limited to the way people should treat one another as individuals in our direct interactions with one another in seeking to get what we want for ourselves. Actually, it can govern all of society.

It should still govern our conduct when we are wanting something for one or more other people. It should also govern our conduct when we are acting on behalf any other entity: another person, or a business, or government, or any other organization, such as a church/religion or a political party/cause. In other words, no matter what, we are always human beings dealing with other human beings. Whenever or however people get mistreated, it is always people mistreating other people.

Beyond that, every society has two societal processes. Those are processes, i.e., bundles of courses of actions related by a common goal, that encompass all of society. One is the political process, the process by which the community as a whole is ‘getting what it wants’. The other societal process is the economy, the process of producing and acquiring goods and services. Both must be governed as processes, i.e., must have some structure and functioning that has been sanctioned by society. To be just, those societal processes must be governed by our ethic of justice.

If you think about it, mutual respect already governs political democracy as a societal process. A democratic political process is one with freedom of speech and a ‘democratic’ distribution of political rights (i.e., there are no arbitrary restrictions on those rights; the only restriction on any of them, age, is universally applicable, meaning it can’t be arbitrary). That assures that all members of society — citizens of a nation — who choose to participate in the political process will be taken into account in that societal process. That’s why a democratic political process is the only just political process.

I have (thoroughly) worked out how mutual respect can even be applied to the economy. It can be applied to any existing economy. The positive outcomes for society are so incredible, people find it difficult to believe that outcomes that really are possible — especially outcomes that good that cost nothing.

[That is a subject for a whole other article (at the least). It is summarized in a “5 min read” in “How to Transform The Society of any Nation” and more fully in “Same Economy, Way Better Outcomes for Society” (both in Medium).]

So not only is there a rule of conduct, an ethic, that all people acknowledge — to the extent that to refuse to acknowledge it is to be defined by psychologists as being aberrant — but that ethic can govern all of society: we may not co-opt any other person in getting anything we want (for ourselves, for any other(s), or when acting on behalf on any other entity). That ethic already governs the democratic political process; to have a fully just society it must also be applied to the societal process that is the economy.

unaffiliated, non-ideological, unpaid, academically trained philosopher and political economist

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