I was driving Dave Schaffer to the bus station this past week–Dave’s a member of this blog, but has never contributed and, possibly, never visited, a speculation this very comment should confirm or disconfirm–and he pointed out an interesting asymmetry in common-sense morality. I’m curious to hear your thoughts.
Suppose there is an action, A, that harms you but benefits me. The fact that A benefits me is not a moral reason for doing A.
But suppose that A harms me but benefits you. The fact that A benefits you looks like a moral reason for doing A.
What I mean is this: If I’ve harmed you, then pointing out that the harm done to you benefited me appears to carry no moral weight whatsoever. But if I’ve harmed myself, then pointing out that the harm done to myself benefited you seems to carry at least some moral weight.
The possible tension is this: It seems plausible to say that morality is all about coming to recognize that no one person’s interests, including my own, count for more than the interests of others. This idea is at the heart of both Kantian moral theory and Utilitarianism, albeit developed of course in very different ways. But if no one person’s interests, including my own, count for more than the interests of others, nor should they count for less than the interests of others. But from a moral point of view it does seem–at first glance, anyway–that my interests count for less than the interests of others, since it’s harder to justify, morally speaking, the harm I do to others than the harm I do to myself.
This is an interesting tension. Any thoughts?