animist wrote:I think the toolbox analogy is not a good one - since one of the problems of yakking on about any ethical theory is the difficulty of actually applying it (and the GR is not the easiest to apply), the last thing we need is a set of options. A principle by definition excludes alternatives, surely.
I don't see why. People talk about having principles, or a set of principles, rather than just the one principle. Different principles can be applied in different contexts. As long as they don't contradict each other, I don't see a problem.
animist wrote:Re public policy, I don't think democratic election is especially based on shared ethical beliefs (and in the case of the GR, a tiny minority would have even heard of it) but rather on a sort of lowest common denomination of interests, plus a vague image of what each party stands for.
Perhaps. But my ethical beliefs certainly inform my own voting behaviour, and that's true of other people I know. And certainly ethical arguments are often used to make the case for, or defend, certain policy decisions, albeit in a rather haphazard way.
animist wrote:I like the WIEDT idea, but I think the GR can accommodate it. In the case of dropping litter, the point is that you are injuring someone else's enjoyment of the environment by polluting it with litter, so you are (on the assumption that you do not like other people's litter) failing to act in a way which matches how you would like to be treated
No, that's not
the point. It doesn't work like that. People justify individual acts on the grounds that they are so insignificant that they won't hurt anyone. The other day, we saw someone walk past this flat and break off a rose from a bush in the front garden. If the person he was with had challenged him on his behaviour, he might well have said, "It was just one rose. The rose bush doesn't look any different. No one's going to notice that it's gone, let alone get upset about it." And he might well think that he himself wouldn't notice, and therefore wouldn't be upset, if it were his own garden. But if everyone picked flowers from everyone's front gardens, there'd be no flowers left in people's front gardens. We'd all be deprived of the pleasure of seeing flowers in other people's gardens, whether we have front gardens ourselves or not. The world would be less colourful. Same goes for picking wildflowers. And littering. Dropping one sweet wrapper, or one small piece of chewing gum, might do no harm at all to another human being, but one wouldn't want to be knee-deep in litter all the time, or adhering to the pavements. There are lots of things in this world that are harmful only on a large scale. Most of the environmental problems and many of the social and economic problems we have today are, I'd suggest, the consequence of large numbers of people doing things that are, in isolation, pretty much harmless, or even beneficial.
There are four obvious responses to WIEDT (though no doubt there are many more). The first is: "Well, most people don't do it. So I can get away with it." And if most people don't do the thing in question because they don't want to, that might well be a reasonable response. But if the thing in question is something that other people might well want to do, but are deliberately refraining from doing (perhaps on the basis of WIEDT), then that's not so reasonable. The person who is doing it is taking advantage of everyone else's sense of responsibility. And most of us would see that as not fair. But if a person doesn't have the sense of fairness that would make them see that as wrong, then they're unreachable, and they doubtless wouldn't be moved by the Golden Rule either.
The second response is: "But lots of other people are
doing it. If I stop doing it, it's not going to make the slightest difference. Why should I stop doing it if they don't?" I confess this is my own response to certain issues, one in particular, related to climate change. I am happy to make lots of changes to my life in order to reduce my carbon footprint, even if other people aren't, because the changes I make aren't actually impoverishing my life. But why should I stop flying to foreign countries on holiday when everyone else I know does it? Why should I forgo a biennial or triennial holiday in southern Europe when my friend X flies to and from Germany every week for his work, and my friends Y and Z take holiday flights at least twice a year, one of which is long haul. It's not as though people are going to follow my example. So I'll just be depriving myself for no reason. Hmm. Must work on a response to this response ...
The third response to WIEDT is: "I'm (or we're) allowed to do this, because I (or we) have a legitimate special status." This is the response used openly by eco-celebrities who fly abroad several times a year, or whose carbon footprints are huge for other reasons related to the work they do. But it's an excuse that's also used on a wider scale, I suspect, as a private justification. We all think we're special. And maybe we're afraid of challenging the legitimacy of other people's claimed special status because we're scared that other people might challenge our own.
The fourth response to WIEDT is: "We don't know what would happen if everyone did this. Probably the world would adapt, somehow. We would no doubt find technological solutions to the problems caused by everyone doing this." Wishful thinking or informed optimism?